Created on Thursday, 19 September 2013 Written by MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, Associated Press
ACAPULCO, Mexico (AP) — Mexico's government said 58 people were missing after a massive landslide smashed through a tiny coffee-growing village deep in the country's southern mountains, where fresh waves of rain threatened more danger for rescue workers trying to evacuate the last residents from the isolated hamlet on Thursday.
The same storm that devastated Acapulco and surrounding areas over the weekend regenerated into Hurricane Manuel and made landfall again on Thursday, this time farther north in the state of Sinaloa.
Sinaloa civil protection authorities said some areas were already flooding and more than 200 people were evacuated from small fishing villages on the coast.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the Category 1 hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph) and it was centered about 95 miles (150 kilometers) southeast of Los Mochis. It is a third blow to a country still reeling from the one-two punch of Manuel's first landfall and Hurricane Ingrid on Mexico's eastern coast.
Hundreds of stranded tourists remained lined up for a second day Thursday at an air base on the outskirts of Acapulco, where military aircraft were slowly ferrying people out of the resort, which was cut off by road from the rest of the country by dozens of landslides and washed-out bridges.
So isolated is Acapulco that cargo ships have been contracted to supply food to the city by sea. Only about 10,000 of the estimated 40,000 stranded tourists have been flown out since the improvised air lift began two days ago.
Increasingly angry, frustrated travelers — many of whom had to wait through the night on the roadside — began to block army trucks heading into the base with what the stranded travelers believed were wealthy, well-connected people or foreigners cutting line to get on airplanes without waiting. The angry crowds forced the trucks to detour a few blocks along the beach to get to the base.
"The problem is that they didn't get in line like all the rest, who spent the night out in the open, hungry," said Blanca Flores, 24, a call center supervisor from Mexico City.
Federal officials raised the death toll from the passage of Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid from 60 to 80 earlier Wednesday. They said they were not yet including landslide victims in the village of La Pintada, several hours north of Acapulco, but "It's very likely that these 58 missing people lost their lives," said Angel Aguirre, governor of storm-battered Guerrero state.
Heavy rains also began pelting the state of Guerrero again Wednesday night, increasing the risk for federal police trying to evacuate the last 45 residents of the village of La Pintada, where tons of dirt and rocks smashed through the center of town Monday night, burying a church and a number of two-story homes.
Federal authorities reached La Pintada by helicopter and evacuated 334 people, some of whom are hurt, one seriously, said Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong.
Osorio Chong said the landslide went right through the middle of the village of some 600 people, accessible in normal conditions by winding mountain roads now broken multiple times by landslides and flooding.
In Acapulco, three days of Biblical rain and leaden skies evaporated into broiling late-summer sunshine that roasted thousands of furious tourists trying vainly to escape the city, and hundreds of thousands of residents returning to homes devastated by reeking tides of brown floodwater.
The depth of the destruction wreaked by Manuel, which first hit Mexico on Sunday as a tropical storm, was highlighted when the transportation secretary said it would be Friday at the earliest before authorities could clear and reconnect the parallel highways that connect this bayside resort to the rest of the world.
Hundreds of residents of Acapulco's poor outlying areas slogged through waist-high water to pound on the closed shutters of a looted Costco, desperate for food, drinking water and other basics.
Many paused and fished in the murky waters for anything of value piling waterlogged clothing and empty aluminum cans into plastic bags.
"If we can't work, we have to come and get something to eat," said 60-year-old fisherman Anastasio Barrera, as he stood with his wife outside the store.
With a tropical disturbance over the Yucatan Peninsula headed toward Mexico's soggy Gulf coast, the country could face another double hit as it struggles to restore services and evacuate those stranded by flooding from Manuel and Ingrid, which hit the Gulf coast.
Mexico's federal Civil Protection coordinator, Luis Felipe Puente, said 35,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.
Elsewhere in the verdant coastal countryside of Guerrero, people turned motorboats into improvised ferries, shuttling passengers, boxes of fruit and jugs of water across rivers that surged and ripped bridges from their foundations over the weekend.
In Acapulco's upscale Diamond Zone, the military commandeered a commercial center for tourists trying to get onto one of the military or commercial flights that remained the only way out of the city. Thousands lined up outside the mall's locked gates, begging for a seat on a military seat or demanding that airline Aeromexico honor a previously purchased ticket.
"We don't even have money left to buy water," said Tayde Sanchez Morales, a retired electric company worker from the city of Puebla. "The hotel threw us out and we're going to stay here and sleep here until they throw us out of here."
Mexican officials said that more than 10,000 people had been flown out of the city on about 100 flights by Wednesday evening, just part of the 40,000 to 60,000 tourists estimated to be stranded in the city.
A lucky few held up ransacked beach umbrellas against the sun. Temperatures were in the mid-80s but felt far hotter. Dozens of others collapsed in some of the few spots of shade.
"Forty-eight hours without electricity, no running water and now we can't get home," said Catalina Clave, 46, who works at the Mexico City stock exchange.
Associated Press writers Martin Duran in Culiacan, E. Eduardo Castillo, Mark Stevenson and Olga R. Rodriguez in Mexico City contributed to this report.